The Uppsala Conflict Data Program, which provides the ‘gold standard’ definition of ‘war’ for research purposes, defines ‘war’ as armed conflict resulting in at least 1,000 battle-related deaths in a calendar year. The threshold for ‘armed conflict’ is 25 battle-related deaths in a calendar year.
Based on these definitions, it is unlikely that ‘war’ between the two countries will take place in the foreseeable future.
‘Armed conflict’ could theoretically occur in a single incident at sea between the two navies, but it is unlikely that it would be sustained.
These conclusions are supported by multiple perspectives on international relations. Policymakers in both countries would most likely view the costs of war or sustained armed conflict as outweighing the benefits, and the diplomatic and political repercussions of seriously disrupting international norms and institutional frameworks would be difficult to overcome.
The one caveat would be if the South China Sea maritime territorial disputes were intentionally or unintentionally confounded with other major regional issues such as the status of Taiwan or Japanese remilitarization, which could increase the significance of the issue for the actors involved.